The U.S. Supreme Court recently held oral arguments in the Caniglia v. Strom case, where law enforcement has been seeking the official establishment of a “community caretaking” exception to the warrant requirement which protects a person’s home. You can listen to the arguments here.
You can hear that the justices are concerned/obsessed with the hypothetical scenario of an elderly person having fallen, or been injured, in her home. Some neighbor of family member calls for the police. They show up at the door; there’s no answer; can they go in without a warrant? If they don’t, maybe the woman has “fallen and can’t get up.” And maybe she doesn’t have Life Alert…..
That’s the hold up here. The questions from the Court didn’t sound promising at all. This is a case where both the ACLU and the Gun Owners of America submitted amicus briefs. This is a we-the-people vs. the government issue. Unfortunately, the Court seems overly concerned about the potential liability of police officers who engage in wellness checks.
But it’s really a non-issue. The proper answer to Judge Roberts’ hypothetical is the reality that there never would be civil liability for an officer who technically violates the Fourth Amendment just by checking on grandma during a wellness check. Why? Because of qualified immunity. Any lawsuit stemming from such a scenario would be granted qualified immunity. And even if he/she weren’t, the measure of our constitutional rights is not a policy analysis about the costs or efficacy of law enforcement agencies, who have insurance for these reasons, defending against civil lawsuits.